I’m Diggin’ Friday: Growing Garlic and Greens

Garlic has an honored place in the barefoot garden. It’s planted in mid-fall, when all the hard work and harvesting is done, and the weather is comfortable and cool. It isn’t fussy and requires little care (a must for the barefoot garden). And it’s absolutely wonderful to eat and so much cheaper to grow than to buy organic.

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Types of garlic

There are two main types of garlic – hardneck and softneck, which describes the stiffness of the stalk. I prefer softneck. It’s a bit easier to grow/less fussy and it grows larger heads, although the cloves are smaller than hard-neck garlic.

Also you can braid softneck garlic into long twists and hang them on your kitchen wall, for decoration AND convenience all winter long. (OK, until January or so, when we run out). Softneck garlic is the kind you usually see in the supermarket.

What’s not to like?

Well…there’s one big trade-off. Garlic demands a good sunny spot and takes a long time to grow. In many cases, cloves planted in October aren’t ready until July. that means tying up prime garden real estate for six whole months, including the critical early summer.

Or so I thought.

This is my third year growing garlic. On the recommendation of my favorite gardening company, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange I decided to a sampler of Asiatic and Turban Garlic, “a must-try for Southern gardeners.”  Their flavor is described as “strong and hot raw but smooth and mellow when baked.” Who could resist?

The garlic came up in the fall as usual and seemed to weather the winter just fine. Early spring came and went and everything looked good. Then the stalks started to wilt.

What happened???

In my experience, garlic plants will send up scapes, curly flowerheads that you cut off to use in salads and stir-frys, to encourage the plant to put more energy into bulb formation. That never happened. Instead the stalks started to brown and flop over.

Earlier this week, I decided to cut my losses and harvest whatever heads were there.  I dug my fingers gently around beneath he stalk – and was shocked to discover a large, full-formed head! Under stalk after stalk I dug and was delighted to discover a whole patch full of garlic heads, ready to come out!

They knew it all along

Looking back at the SESE website I see the note: “These will be the earliest garlics ready to harvest in your garden. They grow big and mature early all at once.”

Yes, I’d forgotten that. But even if I hadn’t, I never would have expected to have my garlic patch harvested and ready for the next crop in early June. In fact, for the condition of some of the heads (paper cracking, cloves starting to split apart) I could have harvested them two weeks ago!

Asiatic and turban garlics will now have a permanent place in my garden. They’re a little fussier than the types I tried before, and I lost about 10% of the heads to rot or some other such problem. But they’re delicious. And did I mention EARLY?

My favorite garden blogger

No discussion of garlic in my garden would be complete without giving credit and kudos to my all-time favorite garden blogger, Kenny Point of Veggie Gardening Tips. Kenny’s blog was the first I went to when I was learning to garden, and where I still go for ideas, inspiration or advice.

Kenny was the one who convinced me to try garlic in the first place, as well as fall & winter gardening, goji berries, and many other gardening adventures. Whether you’re new to gardening or an experienced gardener looking for a few tips, check out Kenny’s free eBook, The Veggie Garden Primer.

The greens are going…going…

The summer heat has hit DC. Although today is cool, the temperatures over last weekend and  the early part of the week climbed to the HIGH 90’s! At the end of May!

Aside from soaring A/C bills and new summer dresses, that also means and end to spring greens. I’ve enjoyed greens all winter and through the spring, so I have no reason to complain. (Will that stop me? Nooo.)

The greens I planted in August and October stayed green and fed us throughout the snowy months and all the way through April. Again, credit to Kenny Point for teaching me about fall and winter gardening.  (More on that in a future post).

Then they bolted (sent up seed stalks and stopped putting energy into their leaves).

That was fine, because by then the seeds I’d put in with the peas took over feeding duty. They’re still going and will likely stick around for a few more weeks before they bolt. (The arugula has already started, as you can see in the photos above).

Greening the summer garden

In hot humid DC, it’s nearly impossible to grow lettuce or spinach in the summer so I’ve been forced to look for alternatives. Not for salads, but at least for cooking.

Last year I tried Malabar spinach a slightly gummy succulent that works just like spinach when cooked. It grows as beautiful magenta and green vines that covered our fence and prompted comments and compliments from all the neighbors!

I haven’t sown any yet (I’ll put them behind the tomatoes when I pull out the peas), but you can there’s a photo above of some self-sown plants already coming up.

Sweet n’ green

Another yummy summer green comes from one of my all-time garden favorites: sweet potatoes. It may be hard to believe form the photo above, but those little plants will produce a sea of foliage, enough to cover the ground (no need for mulch!), beautify the garden, AND fill the cookpot.

And don’t forget the dozens of potatoes you’ll get some the fall. The sweets will definitely have their own post, once the foliage really begins to grow.

What else do I dig about gardening? Showing my son and daughter where food really comes from – and no, it’s NOT the grocery store.

How does YOUR garden grow?

Ever tried to grow garlic? Gotta get some summer greens? Crazy about homegrown sweets?  Let us know in the comments below!

Danielle Meitiv is a writer, marine science geek, gardener and mother who goes barefoot whenever possible. Danielle is also a huge fan and sales affiliate for Holly Lisle’s online courses: How to Think Sideways: Career Survival School for Writers, and How to Revise Your Novel. Follow @Danielle_Meitiv on Twitter, and on Facebook: Danielle Meitiv’s Barefoot Blog, and Danielle Meitiv.



9 thoughts on “I’m Diggin’ Friday: Growing Garlic and Greens

  1. I’ve never grown garlic. We used to have a garden every year, though. By greens, I am thinking you mean collards, turnips, or mustards. When we had a garden, we always had collard greens. I just love collards and could eat them every day.

    1. Yes – collards, kale, mustard, radishes. All those cabbage family cousins. (None of which like warm weather, unfortunately!) My son the picky eater LOVES collards – he’ll eat them raw, straight from the garden.

  2. Your report on “stalks that started to brown and flop over” reminded me of a story in Napolean Hill’s famous book “Think and Grow Rich”. It’s the story of a gold digger who gives up only yards from striking it rich. Fortunately in this case you went farther and discoverd all those wonderful heads just ready to come out. Great reward.

  3. It’s either the law of attraction or the folks at Giant Food are reading this blog and know we are getting all excited about garlic. Tonight when I entered the store in Bethesda I saw these healthy size packages of roasted garlic which I could not resist. Luckily I was not being followed home by cops otherwise I would’ve been ticketed for eating garlic while driving. Hopefully in near future I will be roasting my own harvest …

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